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THE BUZZ: FLORIDA POLITICS

Johnson faces no criminal charges in Greer probe

UPDATED: Delmar Johnson, the inside source who provided information that led to the indictment of former Florida GOP boss Jim Greer, will not face criminal charges after agreeing to testify.

Johnson, the party's former executive director, agreed to testify "concerning the extent of his compensation or remuneration ... attributable to his involvement in the scheme to obtain monies from the Republican Party of Florida," according to the four-page agreement obtained by the Times/Herald.

The deferred prosecution agreement released Tuesday outlines his sweet deal which comes with immunity. "Johnson voluntarily came forward and self-reported his involvement to the Republican Party of Florida and state and federal law enforcement," statewide prosecutor Bill Shepherd wrote.

Johnson agreed to repay $65,093 to the Florida GOP and also agreed to make controlled phone calls as a part of the investigation. Asked about the deal, Johnson's attorney Bob Levinthal said it was fair. "What would the state party auditors and state law enforcement know if not for Delmar Johnson," he said. "Maybe you could equate him with a whistleblower ... who gets rewarded for his cooperation."

Levinthal refused to disclose further details about his client's role in the investigation. But said he came forward before being asked to.

Posted by John Frank at 04:52:04 PM on June 29, 2010

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Biden will have dinner with Petraeus in Tampa tonight

After visiting Pensacola this afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden will fly to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and will have dinner with Gen. David Petraeus and Holly Petraeus at their home.

Petraeus, President Obama's choice to take over the war command in Afghanistan, was before the Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing. Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux sit on the panel.

Posted by Alex Leary at 04:19:36 PM on June 29, 2010

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Rubio heads to Panhandle but don't call it a photo-op

New state Rep. Matt Gaetz is circulating an e-mail inviting Panhandle residents to join him and Marco Rubio at two town hall meetings Thursday to talk about the oil disaster. But lest you get confused that Rubio is seeking some of the media exposure Gov. Charlie Crist is getting -- and most other candidates are trying to grab -- Gaetz says:

"Speaker RubioÕs visit is not a photo-op. Lately our community has been fatigued by photo-ops and light on meaningful solutions. Speaker Rubio will be participating in a series of town hall forums and roundtables to get at the core of how the federal government should be responding."

One thing to watch is whether Rubio is asked to address his position on offshore drilling. He says it should continue if done safely, while the formerly pro-drilling Crist says the BP mess is a wake-up call.

Walton County Town Hall

Time: 11:30am Ð 12:30pm

Location: Edgewater Beach Condominium Ð Riviera Room

Address: 291 Scenic Highway 98, Miramar Beach

Special Guests: Walton Sheriff Mike Adkinson, State Rep. Marti Coley

Santa Rosa Town Hall

Time: 3:15 Ð 4:30

Location: Navarre Visitors Center

Address: 8543 Navarre Parkway, Navarre

Special Guests: Santa Rosa Property Appraiser Greg Brown, Santa Rosa Commissioner Lane Lynchard

Posted by Alex Leary at 04:15:21 PM on June 29, 2010

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Liberty City activists snub Kendrick Meek for Jeff Greene

There's a decent chance this means absolutely nothing - unless it shows the cracks of support in Kendrick Meek's own back yard. Two leaders of a group called the Liberty City Democratic Network Club say the group is endorsing Greene for Senate:

"Our top priority is to strengthen our community and we believe that Jeff Greene is the only U.S. Senate candidate who has the know-how to solve the problems that have plagued our families for years. Mr. Greene has the experience to create jobs that will spur economic activity in all parts of the state and in particular Liberty City-Miami/Dade County. Mr. Greene is also the only candidate who is not a career politician and the only U.S. Senate candidate who has not been a part of the decline of Liberty City," wrote President Eric Thompson and Vice President Roy Hardemon of the Liberty City Democratic Network Club in a joint letter endorsing Jeff Greene.

Yes, we asked, and Greene spokesman said Greene had not contributed anything to the organization.

Posted by Adam Smith at 03:03:28 PM on June 29, 2010

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John Stemberger endorses Jeff Kottkamp

Social conservative activist John Stemberger endorses Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp for attorney general:

"Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp is a man of sincere faith with strong family values. Having had a near death experience several years ago and then having his health almost miraculously restored has given Jeff a renewed vision for the importance of life, marriage, family and public service," said Stemberger. "Lt. Gov Kottkamp is a life-long conservative Republican we can trust. He has a consistent and long history of voting pro-life and leading on the issue. Lt. Gov. Kottkamp will also be clear on where he stands on the all the issues of importance to FloridaÕs faith community and not dodge taking tough positions."

Sounds like he was unimpressed with Pam Bondi's evasiveness on gay adoptions.

Posted by Adam Smith at 02:39:58 PM on June 29, 2010

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Sink wants legislators back in session to set standards for oil claims

As businesses continue to struggle with the myriad of obstacles imposed by BP when getting their claims paid, CFO Alex Sink said it's time for Florida legislators to come into special session to write some rules for how BP handles its claims process in Florida.

In a letter today to Kenneth Feinberg, who has been assigned by President Obama to manage the $20 billion escrow account and pay claims, Sink advised that the feds should learn from Florida's experience dealing with insurance claims and have a transparent, easy-to-understand process, with firm time limits fair to both sides.

"Under a hurricane situation businesses know they have a certain number of days to respond,'' Sink told reporters today. "If you donÕt agree with the claims payments, there are ways to appeal. Right now, we're in a situation where there are no rules and there are no expectations, and I believe in the legislators would be able to clarify what the expectations -- the protections -- are for a small businesses and local governments trying to file claims."

Here's the text of the letter:

June 28, 2010

Mr. Kenneth Feinberg

Willard Office Building

1455 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Suite 390

Washington, DC 20004-1008

Dear Mr. Feinberg:

I am very encouraged by your appointment as the independent claims administrator for the new escrow account for Gulf oil spill claims from BP. Your reputation and experience in handling claims in difficult situations like this fairly and efficiently is just what we need throughout the Gulf Region to remedy many of the problems facing our small business owners and citizens. I look forward to meeting you and working with you on behalf of the people of Florida.

As a statewide elected member of the Florida Cabinet and FloridaÕs CFO, I oversee the Department of Financial Services (DFS). One of my key roles is to aid consumers through a transparent and accountable process with financial and insurance issues, including insurance claims. My Consumer Services call center receives more than 25,000 calls a year relating to insurance claims issues.

As Floridians began to work with the BP claims process, they turned to my department and our Insurance Consumer Advocate with their questions and frustrations. After having worked with frustrated small business owners for weeks and utilizing my departmentÕs insurance claims background, I offer the following recommendations on how you can improve, simplify, and expedite the new claims process.

á Prompt timelines must be established for every step in the claims process (reporting, acknowledging, evaluating, denying, deficiency and paying claim, etcÉ).

á The documentation that is required of individuals and businesses must be consistent and necessary. In speaking with impacted businesses in Florida, the biggest complaint about the BP claims process is the excessive documentation that is required.

á The appeals process must be simple, fast and impartial. Claimants deserve an appeals system that is straight-forward and will not linger on for months. For the appeals process to work smoothly, claimants must be provided specific reasons for any denial. In addition, the claims facility should provide claimants with information as to all their rights once a claim is denied.

á Adjusters must be educated as to the type of businesses that will likely make claims and the various claim types that each business may present. For example, here in Florida, it is apparent that the BP claims adjusters are unfamiliar with the accounting practices of the various affected businesses. Fishermen, bait shop owners, restaurateurs and hoteliers have needs that are specific to their industries. An adjuster can not apply the same standards to a restaurant owner that apply to a commercial fisherman.

á A system for dealing with recurring claims must be established. For example, how will the facility treat a claim by a restaurant owner or charter fishing business whose losses continue to mount each month? Will they have to make a claim with the facility each month? Will the facility cut a check each month based on its own investigation? Will the facility be empowered to give a lump sum payment to the restaurant owner or charter fishing business that will cover all losses up to a prescribed period of time?

á A claims representative must retain all documents related to a claim in a file that is organized so that the information is readable and easy to follow. Moreover, there must be a transparent method for claimants and interested parties to track claims. It would be ideal if a claimant could use an internet-based program to track claims. Claimants should be able to submit their initial and supplemental claims online as well.

Based on my experience, these six items provide a framework for a claims system that will quickly get money into the hands of people who have been affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. We stand ready and willing to provide any further assistance as you develop claims standards.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink

# # #

As a statewide elected officer of the Florida Cabinet, CFO Alex Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services. A successful business leader with nearly three decades of experience in the private sector, Sink is serving her first term as Florida's CFO. CFO Sink's priorities include using her business experience to cut wasteful spending, holding government accountable to FloridaÕs taxpayers, and cracking down on financial and insurance fraud.

Posted by Mary Ellen Klas at 12:46:42 PM on June 29, 2010

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Castor wants permanent ban on gulf drilling

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is calling for a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the coasts of Florida.

"Our economic well-being and our environmental health hangs in the balance," the Tampa Democrat said during a news conference in D.C. with the Sierra Club, Environment America and other groups that say they have collected 400,000 comments from U.S. citizens opposing an expansion of drilling.

The reaction comes as the comment period ends on President Obama's five year plan to expand drilling, announced before the BP disaster.

But politically, an all-out ban is a struggle despite the catastrophe in the gulf. Not even all Florida members of Congress endorse one. Castor acknowledged the hurdle but said she believes the grass roots movement will eventually prevail. "All I can do is continue to reflect the anger and frustration and desire for a change in policy that folks back home are calling for."

Posted by Alex Leary at 12:17:32 PM on June 29, 2010

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Head shops sue over Rouson's anti-bong bill

Times colleague Shelley Rossetter reports: A state law that makes it a crime to sell smoking devices such as pipes and bongs at most head shops takes effect Thursday. And that has some of the shop owners fuming.

So much so that 26 of the specialty retail stores across the state have filed a lawsuit in Hillsborough County to stop the law, calling it unconstitutional. The law "singles out a specific type of retail business, and criminalizes the owners," the lawsuit filed on June 18 said.

Sponsoring Rep. Darryl Rouson's reaction: "Everyone knows what's being smoked out of these pipes; the only ones who claim they don't know are the sellers of these pipes," he said. "The law just tries to chip away at what we know is a facade." (Full story here)

Posted by Lee Logan at 11:49:10 AM on June 29, 2010

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Wait, wait ... Crist will be with Biden

So yesterday, the governor's office said Charlie Crist was not planning on going to Pensacola to be with Vice President Joe Biden, despite appearing on an official White House announcement.

But this morning, Crist's spokesman Sterling Ivey says he has changed his schedule and will head to Pensacola after all.

Crist had planned on being in Miami this afternoon for a fundraiser.

Posted by Alex Leary at 09:33:25 AM on June 29, 2010

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Buenos dias. Mi nombre es Rick Scott

Visiting Cuban-American seniors and Radio Mambí in Miami, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott introduced himself Monday to one of the few communities across Florida that hasn't seen his $16 million media blitz. "Buenos días. Mi nombre es Rick Scott," the Naples multimillionaire in a navy suit told about 200 people waiting for a hot lunch at the Armando Badia Senior Center.

Scott, who visited the famed Versailles restaurant in Little Havana this month, has not yet put his money behind Hispanic outreach. ... Scott's halting Spanish and brief remarks in English failed to whip up the crowd, though they appreciated that he came bearing two dozen gifts for the raffle: hand soaps for the ladies and Cuban coffee for the gents.

"I think he wants to help," 77-year-old Alicia Perez said in Spanish, waving her hand and shouting when Scott called out the number on her raffle ticket.

Posted by Adam Smith at 08:50:12 AM on June 29, 2010

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Has Marco Rubio lost his mojo?

It's not so much that the thrill is gone with Marco Rubio, but definitely the passion has cooled.

Back when he was the daring insurgent taking on Charlie Crist, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate was exciting, edgy, a national superstar. Now, he's the de facto Republican nominee, while Gov. Crist is all over TV talking about the oil catastrophe and other primary campaigns look much more exciting than Rubio's.

"We've lost that aggressiveness and passion that we had with Marco Rubio when he was behind in the polls. We were ready to take the hill," said Tom Eckert, a Republican activist from Oldsmar at a Rubio campaign stop Monday in Tampa. "Now it's a period of regrouping."

About 60 people showed up at Datz Deli in South Tampa for a meet-and-greet with the Miami Republican who used to routinely attract 150 people or more at Tampa Bay campaign events.

Rubio is essentially running now as a general election candidate, though Monday saw little sign of him reaching beyond tea party activists and archconservatives.

Audience members asked whether he agreed that President Barack Obama was intentionally letting the gulf oil spill keep gushing to promote his environmental agenda Ñ (no, said Rubio, but the administration is inept) Ñ and whether he agreed the Obama administration is violating the Constitution and destroying America (Rubio cherishes the Constitution, he said, and won't second-guess Obama's patriotism).

Posted by Adam Smith at 08:39:09 AM on June 29, 2010

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